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Cortelyou Kenney, Fellow

Cortelyou C. Kenney is a Cross-Cutting Legal Projects Fellow.  Before her work at the Center, she was an associate at Wilmer Hale and a law clerk for the Honorable Roger L. Gregory (4th Circuit) and the Honorable Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum (SDNY). She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and Dartmouth College. She is fluent in Spanish. 

My Take

Why Courts Matter to Women: Women's History Month

Posted by Cortelyou Kenney, Fellow | Posted on: March 31, 2014 at 09:36 am

Courts undeniably matter to women—for better or worse. Every day, they decide cases involving the right to have an abortion, to access contraception, to obtain affordable health care coverage, to equal protection under the law, and to fair treatment for women on the job. As March is women’s history month, it is an opportune moment to examine some pending and recent court cases that matter to women.

Two significant cases pending before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, deal with contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). This month, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding whether for-profit companies must comply with a portion of the ACA requiring that women receive health insurance coverage for birth control. The employers argue that they have a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to refuse to grant this coverage based on their religious objections to certain forms of birth control. In essence, they claim that corporations have the liberty to impose their religious beliefs on women and their families, denying women access to critical health care coverage and interfering with a woman’s right to make personal health care decisions for herself. Of course, a for-profit corporation is not a “person” capable of exercising religious beliefs, just as a corporation may not exercise other individual and personal rights such as the right against self-incrimination, and the birth control coverage requirement applies to the company, not to the individuals who own it. Further, even if a for-profit corporation could exercise religion, the birth control coverage requirement does not amount to a “substantial burden” on religious exercise—the standard the companies would need to prove—and including birth control in employee health plans furthers compelling government interests in advancing women’s health and equality and is the least restrictive means of so doing. The NWLC filed an amicus brief in support of the contraceptive coverage requirement in both cases.

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Celebrating Women's History Month: A Look at Judicial Milestones

Posted by Cortelyou Kenney, Fellow | Posted on: March 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

March is women’s history month, and, as such, it is a good opportunity take stock of the gains women have made in terms of their representation on the federal judiciary in the past year and under the Obama Administration more generally. One of President Obama’s signature accomplishments was the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, where three women now serve for the first time in history. While the Supreme Court tends to garner more attention, President Obama has had an impact on the gender balance on lower federal courts as well. While the percentage of women still lags in other arenas, for example with women comprising only 4.6% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, women have increasingly been appointed to the federal bench: slightly under 43% of the President Obama’s confirmed nominees over the course of his administration have been women. (This percentage is nearly double the percentage of women among President George W. Bush’s confirmed judges.)

Over the last year, President Obama nominated and saw confirmed two outstanding women to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—widely viewed as the second most important court in the country. The confirmation of these two women, Judges Patricia Millett and Cornelia (“Nina”) Pillard, brings the number of active women judges on the D.C. Circuit to nearly 50%, a historic high. 2013 also marked the confirmation of Jane Kelly to the Eight Circuit, important because she is only the second female to ever have graced that court. And, just this week, Carolyn B. McHugh was confirmed to the Tenth Circuit, bringing the number of active female judges on that court to two (out of eleven).

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The Tenth Circuit Should Join the Unanimous Trend Towards Marriage Equality

Posted by | Posted on: March 06, 2014 at 11:59 am

Last year, the decision in United States v. Windsor represented a huge victory for marriage equality, as the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional. While the Supreme Court ducked the question posed by a companion case of whether a state ban on marriage between same-sex couples violated the Fourteenth Amendment, since Windsor the trend in lower courts has been unanimous: so far, 18 decisions have found these bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is now poised to address the question in Kitchen v. Herbert and Bishop v. Smith, two cases which arise out of bans on marriage between same-sex couples in Utah and Oklahoma, which lower courts struck down.

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Robert Wilkins’ Nomination Advances To The Senate Floor

Posted by Cortelyou Kenney, Fellow | Posted on: January 10, 2014 at 10:42 am

Yesterday, the Senate voted 55-38-1 to allow an up-or-down vote on the nomination of Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This welcome development will be followed by thirty hours of debate and then final consideration by the full Senate.

Judge Wilkins will be the third of three recent outstanding nominees to the D.C. Circuit to receive a vote before the full Senate. All three nominees were originally filibustered.  

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Wilkins Cloture Vote Today

Posted by Cortelyou Kenney, Fellow | Posted on: November 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Today, the Senate will vote on whether the Honorable Robert Wilkins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will receive an up-or-down vote on his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Judge Wilkins is the third of three recent outstanding nominees to be considered by the full Senate. Both prior nominees—Patricia Millett and Professor Cornelia (“Nina”) Pillard—were filibustered.

Judge Wilkins is exceedingly well-qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit. He graduated from Harvard Law School and then clerked for the Honorable Earl B. Gilliam of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Judge Wilkins subsequently joined D.C.’s Public Defender Service (“PDS”), widely considered one of the best in the country, where he served first as a staff attorney, and later as head of the Special Litigation division.

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